Flowers for Her Grave - By Judy Clemons

Chapter One

“Sixty-three bottles of beer on the wall, sixty-three bottles of beeeeer…”

Casey pushed her hands over her ears. “I can’t take it. I can’t. Not one more minute. I swear, I’m going to kill him. Or kill myself.”

Death sighed. “More work for me. No one ever considers how these things are going to affect me.”

“Sixty-two bottles of beer on the wall…”

Casey groaned. “Take me, L’Ankou. I’m begging you.”

“Quite an offer. Better than the one he’s giving me. Can’t say anyone would want to pass a bottle around with him.”

The man in question was drunk, obviously, and hadn’t had a shower in days, if not weeks. His clothes were a conglomeration of things he’d scavenged, and his beard was a filthy rat’s nest of graying hair and dried grass and who knew what else. The odor of alcohol, stale smoke, and B.O. filled the boxcar, where Casey had taken refuge during the night. It was getting on toward noon of the following day, and the sun had heated the car to an almost unbearable temperature. Casey didn’t know where the train had traveled during the last several hours, but she didn’t care. When it stopped, she was getting off.

Death peered out through a crack in the car. “Where do you think we are?”

“No idea.”

“Yeah, me neither. Hang on a minute.” Death was suddenly gone.

Casey rolled onto her side, turning her back to the drunk. The floor of the empty boxcar was so hard, she felt like she was one big bruise. At least the rhythm of the wheels on the tracks was steady—better than a bumpy ride in the back of a truck.

“You’ll never guess.” Death was back.

Casey grunted.

“No guess? How ‘bout if I hummed a little Carrie Underwood? Or that guy who sings about checking for ticks?”

Casey didn’t move.

“Okay, if you give up. We’re almost in Nashville. We should be stopping within minutes.”

So. The heart of country. Casey felt a pang in her own heart. Her late husband Reuben, Mexican immigrant that he was, had somehow formed a love of the genre, and had practically insisted they visit the city on their honeymoon. Thank God she’d been able to talk him out of it. The last thing she’d wanted to do their first week of married life was visit Dollyworld. They’d gone later, of course, but for their honeymoon she’d wanted somewhere quiet, where she didn’t have to wear a cowboy hat or see Reuben modeling an oversized belt buckle.

She sat up, stretching, trying to ease the kinks from her muscles. The bum on the other side of the car had fizzled out somewhere in the fifty bottle range, and lay on his back, snoring loudly. He’d be going farther than Nashville.

The train whistle drifted through the air. So they were arriving in the city, or the suburbs, anyway. Intersections. She made sure she had all of her possessions and hadn’t left any trash behind. Her quick exit from Kansas had been accompanied by gifts from her friend Bailey, a teenager who’d seen Casey at her worst, beaten and battered. She’d helped Casey escape from the hospital, and had offered a duffel bag of necessities: clothes, shampoo, washcloth and towel, even a pre-paid phone. Added to that was the make-up Casey had used a few days earlier. If she could just find a bathroom she might actually be able to make herself presentable. The bruises and cuts on her face could use a good, thick layer of cover-up.

She thought about the final article in the bag—a card signed by all of the kids, all of her new young friends from Kansas, telling her to Get well soon! With lots of hearts and exclamation points. Bailey had told her to wait to open the bag until she was “on the road.” Probably because she was afraid one or both of them would start bawling. Casey was tired enough now she felt tears pricking her eyes, so she concentrated on making them disappear.

The train let out a long whistle blast, and the boxcar shuddered and slowed. Within minutes they came to a complete stop. Casey slid the door open and took a deep breath of fresh air.

“Eww,” Death said. “Nothing like the smell of smoke and oil.”

“Better than what’s in here.” Casey took one last look at her sleeping companion and jumped down from the car, wincing as her sore body jarred against the ground. “Let’s get going before someone sees us. Or we die of B.O. inhalation.”

Wending her way through the train